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Republiek Stellaland

Republiek Stellaland

Stellaland had a coat of arms which is familiar to collectors, since it appeared on the postage and the revenue stamps of the state. But it is much more a political cartoon and a taunt to its neighbours than a serious work of heraldic art. The arms may be blazoned:

Arms: Quarterly: 1. Or a korhaan proper, wings addorsed, held by the dexter leg by a human hand, the arm vested proper; 2. Azure, a mullet in bend sinister argent; 3 Gules, a pair of scales or; 4. Gules, a pair of fish in fess, the upper one facing the dexter side, the lower facing the sinister, both impaled on a sabre in pale, all proper.

Crest: A mullet in bend sinister or.

Supporters: Two lions rampant gardant proper.

Motto: Gewapend en Rechtvaardig.

Arms explained:
The shield is divided into four quarters, but it is immediately apparent from the colouring of the quarters that the devisers either did not have a proper understanding of heraldic colour contrast (since both lower quarters are red), or that the shadings used did not reflect the actual colours used.

Incidentally, the illustration has been coloured from the 10-shilling Gouvernements Zegel or revenue stamp, and the colours have been deduced from the hatchings used. The state had two sets of stamps printed in Cape Town in 1884 – a set of five postage stamps (values 1d, 3d, 4d, 6d and 1s) featuring the shield, crest and a motto scroll (but no motto!) and a larger set featuring the full achievement (with motto) for revenue purposes, carrying denominations in shillings.

Assuming that the artist responsible for the design followed the standard Petrasancta hatching system, the colours are as illustrated: a field of black dots has been interpreted as gold, a field of horizontal lines as blue, and the two fields of vertical lines as red.

For a different interpretation of the colours, see the flags illustrated on Flags of the World here. In these flags, the first quarter is white (silver), the second quarter green, the third blue and the fourth red.

The korhaan is a symbol for the Korana or Koranna, a Khoikhoi people who lived mostly to the south-west of Stellaland, although the Korana horde that had dealings with Stellaland lived to the east of the state. It is held firmly by a hand, symbolising the Boer republicans’ ability to keep the Korana in check.

The exact species intended is a matter of guesswork, since four different species of korhaan – the black korhaan (Eupodotis afra), the white-bellied korhaan (Eupodotis cafra), the red-crested korhaan (Eupodotis ruficrista) and the blue korhaan (Eupodotis cærulescens) – are found in the vicinity of Vryburg, capital of the short-lived republic.

But since, of the four species, only the black korhaan is also found along the Orange River in the vicinity of the present-day town of Upington, where most of the Korana lived, it is most likely this bird. The drawing is a poor one, and could also be held to resemble a chicken or even a scrawny turkey.

The star (both in the second quarter and in the crest) represents a comet seen by the commando which founded the state while it was out on the campaign that resulted in the establishment of the republic. Author Dan Jacobson (to whom I am indebted for much of the information on this page) remarks that he is convinced that the commandant, later President Gerrit Jacobus van Niekerk of Stellaland, “had the Lone Star State of Texas in mind as well”.

The star lies diagonally – not quite at 45º, the theoretical angle of a bend, but slightly more upright. Its position probably signified something about the appearance of the comet as the commando members saw it. In the crest it is gold (yellow), but on the shield it is silver (white).

The scales in the third quarter are clearly the scales of justice, an attribute the burgers were keen to emphasise – the motto reflects justice as well.

The fish in the fourth quarter symbolise the Tlhaping tribe of Batswana, who have a fish for a tribal totem.

The 21 Tswana tribes or clans found in South Africa each have a totem animal (16 animals in all, four of them shared by two or more tribes), all of which (together with the leopard, as a national totem) were featured in the stamp series issued by Bophuthatswana in 1977. The Bakwena or Bakoena have a crocodile, which can be seen in the arms of Lesotho.

Jacobson remarks that the Tlhaping fish “are skewered on a sabre all the way through, as if for a barbecue”.

The motto, Gewapend en Rechtvaardig, translates as “Armed and righteous.” Jacobson comments: “Armed first, then Righteous.”

Jacobson does not have an explanation for the lion supporters (Leo leo) – perhaps he did not have access to an illustration of the arms with supporters – but the Boer republicans clearly admired lions and the characteristics they are traditionally ascribed in the Western tradition.

A lion appears in the arms of the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek, and no doubt draws on the Dutch tradition of armorial lions (as shown in the arms of the Cape Colony as well). Like the ZAR lion, this one is drawn more as a natural animal than as a heraldic beast.

Lions were still commonly found in the vicinity of Vryburg in the time of the republic.

While I have not seen any illustration of the arms with flags displayed on either side of the shield, the encyclopædia description mentions the flags of the Netherlands and the Stellaland flag – which of the three is not stated, however.

About the state:
The Standard Encyclopædia of Southern Africa has this to say about Stellaland:

“The founding of this small republic was the outcome of a conflict which broke out toward the end of 1881 between the Batlapin (sic) chief Mankoroane, of Taung,[1] who favoured the British government, and the Korana headman David Massouw Riet Taaibosch,[2] of Mamusa (now Schweizer-Reneke). The latter recruited White (sic) volunteers, most of them Transvaal burghers, who in an agreement dated 9 Feb. 1882 were promised farms and a share of the spoils. Mankoroane was defeated in July 1882, and Massouw recognised a ‘management’ elected in Jan. 1883 by the volunteers, with Gerrit Jacobus van Niekerk as ‘Chairman’. Massouw appointed Van Niekerk ‘administrator’ of the territory acquired by the volunteers, giving him the right to establish the territory ‘under the name or title of the Land of the Star, Stellaland’. On 6 Aug. 1883 Van Niekerk issued a proclamation applying to a territory ‘south and north of the Harts River’, with Vryburg, a newly founded town, as its capital. During its brief existence the republic of Stellaland developed a simple but effective system of administration, including a Volksraad which functioned from 23 Feb. 1883. The constitution of the Transvaal Republic (sic) was adopted; a flag and coat of arms were designed; and postage stamps were printed.

“The people of Stellaland wished to unite with the Transvaal Republic; but after the London Convention, signed on 27 Feb. 1884, the British government finally insisted on maintaining the newly defined western border of the Transvaal. An Imperial expeditionary force under Sir Charles Warren put a bloodless end to the republic of Stellaland in Feb. 1885.”

Jacobson comments on the relationships with the state’s neighbours as revealed in the arms (following on from his remark that the fish are skewered as for a barbecue): “Fair enough, one might say, they [the Batlhaping] were the enemy whom van Niekerk’s men had defeated. However, the opposing quarter of the shield shows a korhaan, the bird of the Korannas, the supposed allies of the Boers, firmly entrapped and tethered by the feet. Just to let everybody know who was really to be the boss henceforth.”

He continues: “As for the scales of justice – well, what with the prominence of the sabred fish and the tethered bird, it was probably felt that a bit of justice might come in handy too.”

So in 1885 the republic became part of the colony of British Bechuanaland (see North-West Province), and in 1895 British Bechuanaland was annexed to the Cape Colony. At the time of Union in 1910, it became part of the Cape Province. When Bophuthatswana attained its “independence” in 1977, the Vryburg district remained in “white” South Africa, with Bophuthatswana districts to the north, south and west. The district remained part of the Cape, but the only part of South Africa it actually touched was the Transvaal Province. In 1994 it joined the territory of Bophuthatswana and the districts of the Western Transvaal, which together became North-West Province.

Language of Stellaland:
The language spoken by the burgers of Stellaland was an early form of Afrikaans. But since Afrikaans had no acknowledged written form at the time, the written language of the state was Dutch.

The little Boer republics:
Stellaland was one of five “little” Boer republics that existed at various stages, three of which had coats of arms of some kind.

The earliest of them was the Utrecht republic, on the borders of Zululand, which may have used the Voortrekker flag but does not appear to have used arms. It had a brief separate existence in the 1840s, but then became part of the Lydenburg republic, which in turn joined with Zoutpansberg and Potchefstroom to become the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek. In 1903 Utrecht became part of the Natal Colony.

Stellaland’s sister state of Goshen (in the vicinity of where the Warren Expedition founded Mafeking in 1885) had a flag, but no arms. Like Stellaland, it was absorbed into British Bechuanaland in 1885.

The Nieuwe Republiek had a flag, issued postage stamps, and had a coat of arms divided in six parts showing an oxwagon, a tent, a cow, a ship, a plough and a plane (the wood-shaving tool). The encyclopædia description then states: “Over all is a Bantu shield. Behind the arms are two spears and on each side the flag of the republic . . . arranged in the way of the Transvaal Vierkleur, with the device: ‘Eendragt, Regtvaardigheid en Liefde’ (unity, justice and love) on a scroll underneath”.

The arms were later adopted by the municipality of Vryheid.

It became part of the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek in 1884, but following the South African War it was awarded to Natal in 1903, supposedly as reparation for the damage the colony had suffered during the Boer invasion.

The Klein Vrystaat came into existence following the purchase by a few ZAR burghers in 1877 of 12 000 ha of land from a Swazi chief named Mbandine. In 1886 they formed their own government, upon which Mbandine renounced the territory. The burghers requested incorporation into the ZAR, pending which they declared themselves independent. The Swaziland Convention of 1890 permitted this, and in 1891 the Klein Vrystaat became Ward 1 of the Piet Retief district.

The notch in the south-western part of the Swaziland border is a reminder of the state’s existence. It is today part of Mpumalanga Province.

The state had a flag as well as a coat of arms depicted three Boers, symbolising the triumvirate of J J Bezuidenhout, F I Maritz and W A du Plessis who led the state.

As and when illustrations of the arms of these states become available, they will appear on separate pages of Armoria.



[1] The placename Taung means “lion”, which is ironic, considering that the arms of Stellaland incorporate two lions. The town of Taung was part of Bophuthatswana and now falls into North-West Province.

[2] Jacobson gives his name as David Mosweu; it is possibly a Setswana version of the name. In the form Massouw it probably indicates French (and Boer) ancestry for the Korana leader.


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  • Sources: Standard Encyclopædia of Southern Africa and The Electronic Elephant: A Southern African Journey, by Dan Jacobson (1994: Hamish Hamilton).

  • Illustration of the arms coloured using MS Picture It! It is not quite complete, but will be shortly.


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    Comments, queries: Mike Oettle

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